There has been a lot of coverage about how MOOCs (massive open online courses) could revolutionize higher education. But the subject of how MOOCs benefit students with ADHD has received little attention. It is time to redress the balance a little bit. But first let us look at some of the controversial aspects of MOOCs which have caused a heated debate in many academic circles.
Why has traditional higher education not moved with the times?
Academics have always argued that there can be no real interaction or debate with a 1,000 or even 10,000 students who have enrolled for an online course. While free access to a higher education could become a feasible civil right globally, there are many problems still to address:-
- evaluation of masses of students can and will be problematic
- the courses for profit versus those for non-profit will cause upheavals in academic circles
- there is already a high drop out rate among students who actually fail to complete the courses
- only about a dozen UK universities actually offer the British equivalent, Futurelearn, in collaboration with the Open University
- private companies and institutes may offer paid courses for credit. This has already created a furore in California.
- The University of California’s early project called UCOnline, has failed to pay off the massive $7 million loan to set it up. There is little prospect of it making any income.
- assessment of such large numbers will be impossible to administer without cheating taking place. This will be extremely difficult to monitor.
As we have seen, there are sound reasons why academia has been so cautious. But students themselves who are so computer savvy are anxious to be able to avail of a more flexible method of learning.
How MOOCs benefit students with ADHD
As regards students with ADHD and those with special needs such as autism, MOOCs can provide a very flexible and practical alternative. As students with ADHD are prone to shorter attention spans, poor focusing and subject to impulsive actions, this new method of delivering learning could well be a boon for them. Let us look at the main advantages:
- the traditional lecture hall environment is replaced by that of the computer in the student’s own home or accommodation
- the flexibility of the lecture formats themselves allow the student to listen again and also to revise elements he or she may have missed.
- students with ADHD have poor focus and also have times of the day when their attention is at its peak. They can exploit this to listen to the lectures.
- there is no restriction on their movement. They can get up for breaks when they like without disturbing fellow students
- they can choose which type seating they prefer. Research shows that doing a secondary physical activity can actually help concentration. So, they can use a stability ball if they prefer. This would not be allowed in a university lecture hall!
- there is complete freedom as regards the lecture timetable.
- there is no need to worry about social interaction problems with fellow students. This is particularly appealing to those who have some autistic symptoms.
- the complete freedom as regards access and timing may well be a two-edged sword as the students will be continually tempted look at Facebook and check their emails.
- the best feature of all is that the lectures are in much shorter chunks and come with practice questions. The students get instant feedback. But many subjects and courses are not suited to that type of presentation or checking of concepts.
ADHD students may well be able to thrive by using MOOCs and that is something they should always consider when and if they are available. However, it must also be said that a more formal learning environment can help to keep students with ADHD on track so these courses may not suit everybody. But this is a wonderful opportunity and it will be fascinating to watch how and if academia can blend in with these exciting hi- tech developments.
Robert Locke MBE is a health enthusiast specializing in children’s health and has written extensively on ADHD, parenting, mental health, anxiety and depression. You can discover more about how MOOCs benefit students with ADHD and other parenting problems by visiting the Problem Kids Blog.